Friday, April 20, 2007

Needing to be Inspired

I just finished watching Bobby, an ensemble film revolving around the Ambassador Hotel and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It's not the greatest film ever, probably not even all that wonderful, but there was certainly something that kept me riveted. Not so much the whole Camelot nostalgia; I was far too young to even have a clue about the Kennedys when Robert F. Kennedy was shot. What the film did instead was force me to acknowledge that behind my cynical take on politics there still beats the heart of a idealistic person who desperately yearns to find a political or social leader to truly believe in.

Someone who truly believes in social justice. Someone who will speak for those who have been disenfranchised in our society. Who stands up for the common man instead of corporate heads. Someone who speaks the truth. Someone who stands up for peace. Someone who makes us really look at ourselves and resolve to be better. Someone to make us feel proud to be Americans.

I guess what I saw that film capture on the faces of RFK's supporters in archival footage was the certainty that this man, Robert F. Kennedy, embodied all of those characteristics that I want to see now. The certainty that this man could make things better for all Americans. A certainty that I want desperately to feel.

Take a moment to read this speech given by RFK on April 5, 1968, used to great effect by the filmmaker in Bobby. A speech that is perhaps even more pertinent today then when he first gave it. I've pulled a few excerpts from this speech and posted them below.

What an amazing man.

On the Mindless Menace of Violence
City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio
April 5, 1968

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

. . . Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

. . . For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

. . . I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

. . . Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

5 comments:

Kristin said...

I hope it's okay with you that I linked this post to my blog.

Gently encouraging people to look at things from a slightly different angle than they're accustomed to is where you truly shine. My hat's off to you, Mary!

CheekierMeSly said...

Word, Mary. Word.

Q said...

Dear Mary,
I do recall the speech and the man.
I too would like to believe again.
Thank you.
It maybe "we the people" will need to stand up straighter and be heard again.
Sherry

Mrs. Staggs said...

This movie has inspired more than one conversation at our house lately. I often think about the fact that so many people that I know only know Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King through text books and old video clips. I remember the days of their deaths vividly. The Viet Nam War and those two men have had a profound influence on my politics and philosophy. I was a girl when both were killed, but I paid attention even then. My good friend Patty canvassed for Bobby Kennedy and met him. She said he was every bit what you would imagine. There are still people who stand up and have the courage to act upon behalf of what will make a difference for everyone. My 19 year old son has always paid attention and has been exposed to different people, places and philosophies. He has gone to school with very rich and very poor children. He used to get up early every morning and go with me to a homeless shelter to bring a classmate to school. I remember other parents critisizing me for exposing him to an "unsafe" environment, or remarking that it was such a big deal thing to do. His great grandmother lives only a few blocks away from that unsafe place and if taking an extra half hour each morning to make sure another child is safe, at school and being fed is a big deal, then I guess it will be a while yet before we see a real change. My son hasn't been taught that there is only one way to think about things, but to honor and respect different beliefs. He's been sheltered from violence in such a way that he hasn't beeen desensitized to it. Now when he sees or experiences it, he feels it in his gut and he knows it is wrong. He forms opinions based upon what he experiences to be the truth, not what he is told. That's the thing that I'm proudest of as a mom. That I've raised a person who "sees" and wants to make a difference. When he graduated his senior quote was one that spoke to him. Something about evil only flourishing when good men choose to do nothing. That goes for everyone don't you think? So much about life is circumstance and opportunity. We have to stop judging people and do what we can for one another. We have to start putting humanity first in our lives, above thinking only one religion is valid and the almighty dollar.
Oh gosh, Mary, I've written a whole volume here for you, but as you see, mine is an idealistic heart. It takes courage to stand up when others choose to sit down, but you have to be the change you want to see and raise your children to be the same.

Q said...

Dear Mary,
Happy Earth Day.
A kiss on the wind and a smile in the star dust.
Sherry